Belfast Telegraph

State can't ignore abuse at Kincora Boys Home under secret watch

A Government probe into paedophile rings won't be taken seriously unless the regime at the east Belfast boys' home is included in the investigation, writes Henry McDonald

William McGrath who abused young boys in the east Belfast home

In the hit Cold War TV drama series The Americans, one of the main weapons both the KGB and the CIA-FBI deploy against each other is sex. The story of the undercover Soviet spies posing as the all-American apple pie family, Elisabeth and Phillip Jennings, swirls around issues of infidelity, bedroom betrayals, pillow talk and the ever-present threat of blackmail in the background.

The Jennings' unsuspecting nemesis and neighbour, the FBI spy catcher Stan Beeman, is himself using his sexual prowess to seduce an attractive female Russian agent who initially turns to the American because she has been sexually exploited and abused by a senior KGB operative at the USSR embassy in Washington DC.

The Americans plot line and the heavy emphasis on lust, love and treachery (of both the sexual and political kind) is laden with hammed up Holywood-style psycho-drama although to be fair its creator Joe Weisberg was a CIA case officer who served on the Cold War frontline.

Indeed, the series and its main premise is not so far-fetched perhaps when you consider the long history of how intelligence services used sexual blackmail to recruit and "turn' agents, including here in Northern Ireland.

Back in the mid-1970s there was little or no sign of the Cold War thawing and in the UK there was a real sense of national crisis and decline.

The miners had brought down Ted Heath's Conservative government; trade unions flexed their muscles from the picket lines of power stations to the shop floor of British Leyland; the National Front was on the march and bombs were now exploding in English towns and cities as the Provos began their offensive in the UK, the Troubles now spilling over into Britain.

In this febrile atmosphere there were blatant threats from retired generals, ex-spy chiefs and politicians on the farthest right wing shores of the Tory Party of coup d'etats and military-led takeovers.

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On this side of the Irish Sea the security forces were rebuilding their intelligence networks post internment and Bloody Sunday, the RUC, in particular, being equipped with endless money and technical resources to recruit agents into republican and loyalist terror groups while establishing what would become a 24/7 surveillance system that together with human intelligence (in Belfast parlance "touts") eventually ground down the armed campaigns and helped create the space for "peace factions" within the IRA and others to develop.

And all the while the Security Services, MI5 and MI6, were extending their own reach beyond countering the threat from the KGB and other Warsaw Pact intelligence agencies, to spy on legitimate and legal political parties, peace movements, trade unions and individuals.

Much of this "war of the shadows" took the State down some morally dubious, highly questionable dark alleyways, one of which was the Kincora Boys Home scandal.

Beyond the horrific regime of rape and abuse that took place in the east Belfast home from the 1960s to the late 70s/early 80s, the central allegation surrounding Kincora was and still is that MI5 and RUC Special Branch were aware that it was going on.

Moreover, the Security Service and the police also used that information to blackmail and recruit key abusers such as the prominent Orangeman William McGrath.

Thanks to the sterling work done by investigative journalist Chris Moore, we can say with confidence that McGrath was not alone in getting away with abusing the boys while working as a state agent spying on the emerging, disparate factions of extreme unionism-loyalism in the early 1970s.

Both Moore and myself are confident that one loyalist extremist, who is deeply mistrusted even by the UDA and UVF, has connections to Kincora as well as being a suspect in a number of other paedophile-related incidents.

This character, however, has never been seriously investigated or questioned by police over what he knew about Kincora or any of the other allegations that were made about him during the 1980s.

We are equally convinced that this individual was a state asset and long time "agent provocateur" within extreme loyalism for decades and that the role meant he was also a protected asset.

One of his former associates was John McKeague, an ex-leader in the terror group the Red Hand Commando, who has also been linked to or had at least knowledge about the abuse regime at Kincora.

The Irish National Liberation Army shot McKeague in 1982 just after he hinted that he had explosive information about Kincora and its connections with state agents.

A decade later, when Jack Holland and myself were researching our history of the INLA – Deadly Divisions – we met with a former military intelligence officer who had known McKeague.

In an oblique but fascinating admission of McKeague's links to military intelligence and Kincora, the retired officer stated on learning of his death in 1982 that "there were no tears shed in Lisburn".

By which the one-time army intelligence officer meant Thiepval Barracks, the Army's Northern Ireland headquarters based out in Lisburn. As well as no tears being shed, the retired officer might have added that there was an audible sigh of relief as well when the INLA killed McKeague, given the secrets he took to his grave.

The Westminster-based inquiry into paedophile rings at the centre of power cannot be taken seriously unless its brief includes one of the most disturbing cases of institutional child abuse anywhere in UK history.

The British State cannot hold inquiries into how the likes of Cyril Smith got away for decades with his paedophile activities and yet ignore Kincora.

The state's organs and their enemies in armed insurrectionary movements like the IRA have always used the threat of sexual blackmail as part of their secret, dirty wars.

But in the case of Kincora this wasn't about two consenting adults betraying their partners, their sexual treason caught on secret cameras in bugged hotel rooms, their bedroom antics played back to them on videos inside interrogation rooms or, to quote one example of a Belfast IRA man "turned" to become a Special Branch agent, having to watch himself having sex in a male sauna replayed on a giant TV screen inside an Army mess packed with laughing, cheering squaddies.

But Kincora was somewhat different to all of the above. It was about the daily abuse over years and years of vulnerable young boys by Bible-bashing far right-wing hypocrites under the secret watch of police officers and MI5 operatives who put intelligence and information far above the welfare of children.


Kincora Boys' Home on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast was the scene of a notorious child abuse scandal. In December 1981 three former employees at the home were jailed for abusing boys there. Among them was William McGrath, a former house master at Kincora and a leading Orangeman. There have long been claims of a cover-up to protect senior establishment figures linked to Kincora.

Further Reading

Victims reassured Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry won't be axed after cash threat 'nightmare' Paisley's dead pastor friend linked to Kincora abuse Kincora probe has to access secret files, says former Army officer Colin Wallace Kincora: MP Keith Vaz backs call for east Belfast home to be included in UK-wide inquiry Kincora abuse scandal: Now it's no longer merely a Northern Ireland nightmare Kincora abuse horror: Claims not incredible: ex-police chief Kincora scandal: How Colin Wallace's world turned upside down Kincora scandal: I will reveal the secrets, says ex-Army officer Colin Wallace

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